Friday, September 11, 2009


Ok, sure, the plural of anecdote and all that. But this Kos diary ought to remind us that when the rubber hits the road, or "at the end of the day" or whatever is the current cliche hits the page everyone in this country needs health care cost control and relief.

Then I went to a staff meeting this morning. In the meeting we figured out that our total health care costs for our 3 employees was going up $10,000 in this year alone, bringing our total health insurance expenditures to 14% of our total annual budget. It is squeezing our finances both personally and collectively - we can't afford to pay higher co-pays and the institution can't afford to keep paying higher premiums. We are getting squeezed on all sides.

And then my conservative boss, who has taken shots at liberals (and me) in staff before, said something I was amazed by.

He said, "Well, if the President is able to do what he talked about last night, then we won't have to worry about this." WHOA.

I looked at him perplexed. He said,

"A lot of what he said last night made sense. I agreed with most of it. I just don't know if he'll actually be able to get it passed, and I don't know if relief will come fast enough."

" was pretty centrist" I stammered, shocked.

"And he really got me at the end with the part about Ted Kennedy. I didn't even agree with what he was saying, but I was deeply moved. That was powerful stuff," he said.

This is a huge opportunity for us as a people, and also a huge danger for the Democrats as a party if they fail to grasp what is going on. Populist programs are, by definition, popular. This is true in the abstract, when the programs are only pie in the sky plans--its more true and more important in the real world when people actually grasp that they are living a crisis that the program can solve. That is, when the people are well informed and the program is well tailored to their actual needs.

That fact is why the Republicans have worked so hard to deny that there is, in fact, a health care crisis for everyone--not just for the uninsured but for the small business, the big business, the middle class voter. Once the details of the crisis are admitted to then the need to act becomes obvious and inescapable. So the facts, you might say, are on our side and have been on our side for a while.

The problem that people like me have with Obama and the way he has chosen to go about dealing with getting reform is that he has assumed that "the people" don't need to understand the facts--that you can get to reform by simply wheeling and dealing with the upper classes, the big pharmaceutical companies, the large stake holders, and the legislature. He missed golden opportunities to educate the actual voters on his plans until the big speech. He ceded populism and popular opinion to the side of reaction and resistance. That was August.

I don't know why the Democrats chose to treat the issue as one that didn't require citizen interest, input, and consent. Maybe they thought they would push the whole thing through before electoral politics came into play? Maybe they thought they could rely on some kind of bipartisan love of country to get the blue dogs and republicans on board. But their failure to go to the people--all the people--and rouse them to fight for health care reform doesn't mean that the people aren't ready and interested in health care reform. Interestingly enough, perhaps because reality is on our side it turns out that the citizenry, despite or around their political leanings, are actually already at the brink of demanding reform. The "boss" in this story, my old contractor who demands "single payer now" are all from the class of people who the Republicans think they had locked up as permanently anti liberalism, anti reform, anti statism. But while they weren't looking the crisis has gotten so huge that even these guys have come over to our side.

The problem for the Democrats and for good health care reform is that the Democrats are refusing to recognize that, on some level, the people have blown past their level of reform. They want it to be a done deal. And they may want, to the extent that they understand what is at stake, even more than the Dems are proposing to give them. So by still following an incrementalist strategy, by possibly ditching the Robust Public Option, the Democrats are refusing to give these new reformists what they want which is real, immediate, health care reform and relief. Obama is fighting the battle of the imaginary middle, the imaginary deficit hawk, the imaginary centrist, moderate, blue dog. Not only are those people phantoms (they are neither centrist, nor fiscally prudent, nor moderate) but these people have a vanishingly small constituency in real life. The same goes, of course, for the actual Republicans--those people have a vanishingly small constituency too--its small in real world terms (the Senate Minority reflecting the views of an even smaller minority of voters.

I believe that there has been a shift of pragmatic health care consumers towards the new party of "do something already." In that sense Obama and the Democratic party have "won" the battle for public opinion. But they are in danger of losing the longer term battle by rousing hopes that they will then, to please the Blue Dogs and the far right hysterics, douse. This is the true danger, as many have observed, of refusing to fight the battle of "full health care for all--now." Even people who are too busy to follow the debate want reform--they personally want and need help. When, after all this sturm and drang Obama and the Dems emerge with the 900 billion dollar bill that covers only the poorest (and that only partially), and that fails to bring down the costs and the fears of the middle class there is going to be a backlash against them as mere incompetents that will dwarf the August ranting of the teabaggers.


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